Saturday, March 24, 2012
Jeep's Bleeps and Film Jazz: Piero Umiliani- Ode to Duke Ellington, La Legge Dei Gangsters, Mondo Inquieto
Today we focus on the jazzier side of Mr. Umiliani, and on that note there couldn't be a better starting point than Ode to Duke Ellington. Ellington was Umiliani's hero from a young age, so the versions of his compositions found here, strange as they are at times, are heartfelt and intimate.
And they are rather strange, arranged to include ARPs, Moogs, and other blooping and woozing sounds in addition to a conventional jazz orchestra. Over the years, there have been countless versions of "Caravan" and "Sophisticated Lady", some dreadfully faithful and unoriginal, many rather daring. Archie Shepp's "Sophisticated Lady" (from Blasé) is a radical example, and "Caravan" has been done well so many times one starts to wonder if it's harder to do a bad version than a good one-- so it's not like we've never heard these songs re-imagined-- but Umiliani still manages to surprise and thoroughly delight here (and avoid any gimmickiness, to boot). It's a fitting, and thankfully none-too-reverent, tribute to his spiritual mentor and one of the greatest composers of all time.
All the Ellington covers on this record were originally recorded for Jazz A Confronto, pictured above (one of my least favorite sleeve designs, ever), then recompiled for Ode with additional tracks, composed by Umiliani more or less in an Ellingtonian style: "Dreaming of Duke", "Ode to Duke Ellington", "My Man Duke", etc. The newer compositions don't have the space-age trimmings but they're really quite excellent. The only copy of Ode I've found is 192 kbps, whereas the rip of A Confronto is 320, so I've reassembled Ode using the 320 tracks. So, all the Duke tracks are 320, and the five Umilianis are 192. If you please.
ODE TO DUKE (320/192)
Here we have a very jazzy soundtrack to a film (lightly featuring Klaus Kinski) by the name of La Legge Dei Gangsters ("Gangster's Law"). The record is a mix of more "soundtracky" tracks in an Italian gangster movie style, and some more jazzy compositions, including the title track and the sublime 12-and-a-half minute "Genova P. Zza de Ferrari Dalle 2 Alle 7". This one was recommended to me recently by Library music expert and artist Christer as one of his favorite Umiliani records, and I couldn't believe I'd never heard it before. You can grab it here, at fellow Umiliani enthusiast's (excellent) site, Sleazy Listening. Say thank you while you're there.
LA LEGGE DEI GANGSTERS (192)
This is the least jazzy of the set but one of my favorites. It popped up over at the Growing Bin a while back, just before the Great Megacide, so I've re-upped it here. This one is so good. As the cover indicates, this is some dark shit, rich with a sense of dread, full of creeping danger, escape schemes and plaintive saxophones in the forboding mist. Usually when I come across one of the many library LPs whose purpose is to describe "tension" or "danger" or the like, I steer clear, as they often contain more aimless dissonance and industrial drone than anything else, and don't really work for me as music. This is a big whopping exception, a thing of startling beauty.
One of Umiliani's single best compositions can be found on Mondo Inquieto, listed here only as "track 13" (although it pops up, in a slightly lesser form, on the Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso OST as "Free Minore"). Spare, thick with dread, a lone saxophone pierces the atmosphere like a howl or lament. It's so so good, and reminds me a lot of Badalamenti's best work with David Lynch or the end of Bowie's "Neuköln". It's not all so stark, however, there are a few awesome danger jams with pseudo-motorik rhythms or exotic synths. This one is really really good- many many thanks to the ripper, whoever you may be.
Thanks to all the original rippers, good god men you're doing important work.
MONDO INQUIETO (320)